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Employee Wellness

By Susan Johnson
MUSC Employee Wellness

For smokers desperate to quit, the answer may be as close as the drawer with their workout clothes.

Two of the most significant risk factors for chronic disease are smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. For smokers who are not physically active, starting an exercise regime while trying to quit smoking might seem difficult, but research suggests that smokers who take up a regular exercise program have a much higher quit-smoking success rate.

Nicotine addiction and exercise affect the body and the brain in similar ways that may explain why physical activity can help relieve the symptoms associated with quitting smoking.

A recent study conducted at The University of Exeter in England revealed the immediate physical and neurological benefits of exercise as a cessation tool. After a single, 10-minute exercise session, smokers deprived of tobacco for 15 hours reported reductions in nicotine cravings.

Lead author Adrian Taylor said the research suggests that exercise produces neurotransmitters including dopamine — a chemical in the brain associated with positive mood. "In this way, exercise may mimic the effects of nicotine in the brain and provide smokers with the same relief from negative mood as smoking."

Even better, a review of 20 studies on exercise and quitting smoking found that exercise does not have to be hard or long-lasting to have these effects. Even brief bouts of physical activity can be an effective aid for smokers wishing to quit.

In addition to the benefits related to cravings, exercise can also help improve overall health, reduce weight gain often associated with quitting smoking and improve self-confidence. Smoking damages the cardiorespiratory system, but much of its negative effects can be reversed by quitting. Adding exercise can improve heart and lung function, reduce the risk of lung cancer and reduce chronic shortness of breath. Exercise also can lead to a positive self-image, which contributes to successful changes in behavior, both in quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Smokers who are ready to quit and want to use exercise to help them be successful should follow these recommendations:

  • See a physician before starting any exercise routine
  • Start slow
  • Find something enjoyable
  • Include cardio, strength training and flexibility routines
  • Find a workout partner

For information on how exercise can help smokers quit for good, sign up for the Lunch & Learn with Katie Blaylock at 12:15 p.m., Feb. 22. Participants will receive a pedometer and fitness band.

Employee Wellness events

  • Tobacco Free Tuesday: Visit Diane Conte, Prevention Partners manager with the State Employee Insurance Program in Children's Hospital lobby to learn about Quit For Life, a free smoking cessation program offered to employees covered under the state health plan. Enroll from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., Feb. 21 and receive a kit filled with gifts.
  • TST satellite clinic: Employee Health Services will be administering tuberculin skin tests for employees from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Feb. 8 outside Ashley River Tower cafeteria. No appointment necessary.
  • Lunch & Learn: "Exercise to Quit Smoking." Join Katie Blaylock from 12:15 - 12:45 p.m., Feb. 22 in Room 103, Colbert Education Center & Library. Email
  • Worksite screening: Feb. 22 in the Wellness Center auditorium. This screening, valued at about $350, is available to employees with the State Health Plan for $15 (covered spouses can participate for $15). Employees and spouses without this insurance can participate for $42. To register, visit and click "Worksite Screening."

Email to become involved in employee wellness at MUSC.



Friday, Feb. 17, 2012

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.